Centaur founder cashes in £6m of shares as publisher is floated

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The Independent Online

Graham Sherren, the founder and chairman of Centaur, has cashed in £6m worth of shares in the company's flotation, which leaves him with a further £8m in shares and options.

The controversial listing of the business-to-business magazine publisher has been pulled off by Numis, the stockbroker that won an auction set up to sell the company.

The broker's City competitors, as well as Incisive Media, one of the losing bidders, have been publicly questioning the valuation put on Centaur by Numis in order to win that auction. However, Numis bid £145m for the publisher and Centaur will have a market value of £148m when dealings begin in the stock next week.

"I'm absolutely thrilled that we are going to be an independent company. It was terribly important that we were not just swallowed up [by another publisher]," said Mr Sherren.

However, he said he was still not happy with the timing of the flotation. The decision to put the company up for sale was taken by key shareholder Veronis Suhler Stevenson, which wanted to realise the value of its investment.

Centaur's profits have been savaged by the downturn in the media sector, with underlying earnings falling from £12.3m in 2001 to £6.7m last year.

Mr Sherren added however that Veronis Suhler was at least supportive in backing the Centaur management's preferred buyer, Numis. The broker bought Centaur to immediately float it in what was a controversial move because Numis was also broker to Incisive Media, led by Tim Weller. Incisive, which was interested in acquiring Centaur, felt it had been betrayed by its own financial adviser. Incisive has made a formal complaint over the issue to the Financial Services Authority, the City's regulator.

Mr Sherren said that Incisive did not even submit the second highest bid, so it would not have won the auction, even if Numis had not bid.

"I have a very high regard for Tim [Weller, a former Centaur employee]. He's a very good egg... [but] he got the bronze, not even the silver."

Numis placed 134 million Centaur shares with institutional shareholders at 100p a share. The company's publications include Money Marketing and The Lawyer.

Mr Sherren, 66, who founded Centaur in 1982, will remain chairman and chief executive. He said he would look to appoint a chief executive from within the company over the next couple of years and remain chairman.

He cashed in £6m worth of shares as part of the flotation and his remaining stake is a 4.6 per cent holding, worth almost £7m. He also had share options in Centaur that have been rolled over into options in the new listed company. These are worth an additional £800,000 at the flotation price.